AI: A solution looking for a problem?
There is no shortage of hype surrounding the seemingly sudden explosion of AI in the last 12 months. Specifically Generative AI, such as ChatGPT or Midjourney - both of which seem to represent a quantum leap in the capabilities of artificial intelligence.
It is no exaggeration to say that AI will disrupt many aspects of both work and personal life. Companies are scrabbling to understand the opportunities and threats that AI poses, whilst individuals are ever more enchanted by these tools capabilities.
Side note: If you’ve not asked ChatGPT to “write a letter to your mother about arrangements for Christmas (you’d like to bring the kids for a week) in the style of a 19th century romantic poet”, then you need to put this blog down for a few minutes and go and try!
AI, in a general sense (although not general AI, which is something else entirely), is already being used by most of us in one way or another.
Companies are using it to automate mundane tasks, such as extracting information from hand written invoices or copying data from one system to another (this is called Robotic Process Automation - RPA), and for generating product descriptions.
We regularly interact with Siri, Google or Alexa for things we might once have reached for the encyclopaedia¹ . Actually it’s more accurate to say that these digital assistants use a number of AI tools - such as natural language processing and machine learning. (find out more about this here)
The consumer space is largely driven my novelty and utility. The novelty aspect captures the imagination of users, lets us have fun with all kinds of media - there are consumer apps that enable users to create their own deep-fakes, something previously only available to foreign powers, the porn industry and unscrupulous politicians.
For utility, consider how many students and workers are now using ChatGPT to edit, refine or even create content for their courses or jobs (22% of workers, according to McKinsey, regularly use AI to enhance their work), or the growth of affordable security cameras that can detect whether or not the person in your garden is a member of the family or a miscreant intent on harm.
For businesses, the role that the explosion AI is going to play is less clear. Business leaders know that they need to engage with it and many are already exploring some of the more defined use-cases, such as marketing and content creation.
One developing use-case is AI as a co-pilot. Already the developer platform Github is testing it's Co-pilot AI - a sidebar that provides developers with a conversational interface where they can ask for help with coding, check their work etc.
Co-piloting is one of the more interesting trends in AI, since by definition, it augments workers rather than replacing them.
However there is a feeling that the real AI revolution hasn’t happened yet and that real disruption is just around the corner. In this sense, there is perhaps a tendency for business leaders to cast around for the applications of AI, rather than taking a ‘problem first’ approach.
AI runs the risk of becoming a solution looking for a problem - and this could be dangerous, as it distracts attention away from the real challenges faced by businesses where AI might be a solution but where other solutions may also be found.
Businesses need to think about the impact of AI on their business models, their people, and their products. It is important for businesses to encourage their people to be curious about the new technology, whilst staying alert to the potential threats.
Taking a problem first approach is always going to be the best way to ensure that the right tools are being used to solve the challenges.
So, here’s our recommendations:
1 - Grow internal knowledge of AI, its capabilities, strengths and weaknesses.
2 - Add the various AI tools to your corporate tool-box.
3 - Work with internal stakeholders, suppliers and customers to identify challenges.
4 - Find the best solution for the challenge. It might be AI, but then again it might not.
¹younger readers: An encyclopaedia is a book² containing a wide range of information about the world
² Even younger readers: A book is a bound collection of paper with printed information, images or stories.